Josh Freeman Saga Hits New Low Through Absolutely No Fault of His Own

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterOctober 1, 2013

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman hasn't done anything wrong, but reports on Monday night surfaced that revealed he was in "Stage 1" of the NFL's drug program. 

ESPN's Chris Mortensen was the first to release the information, which quickly spread through the normal social media and news outlet cycle. 

Sadly, however, many misunderstand what exactly was being reported. Here is a partial explanation of Stage 1 from the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse:

The Medical Director’s determination is not dependent upon a finding that the player carries a diagnosis of substance abuse or dependence, but rather is dependent upon whether, in the Medical Director’s judgment, participation in the Intervention Program may assist in preventing the player’s potential future misuse of substances of abuse.

The rest of the Stage 1 language clearly spells out that this isn't about a player who has necessarily done anything wrong—just a player the NFL wants to keep an eye on for any number of reasons. 

That premise, then, begs the question and provides a faulty conclusion: What did Freeman do wrong that put him on the league's radar?

In short, absolutely nothing. 

Sep 22, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) reacts during the fourth quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Buccaneers 23-3. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

From Mortensen's original report: "Freeman has obtained a temporary-use exemption for a prescription drug that normally would be on the banned list, the sources said."

To be clear: Freeman received a waiver for a drug which he was legally and rightfully prescribed. The drug, which is already on the banned substances list, is allowed if a player is prescribed it and applies for the waiver. 

Remember all those Adderall suspensions? The argument from players is usually that they have a prescription but just forgot to apply for the waiver. This is what it looks like when a player does exactly what he's supposed to do in that circumstance. The fact is, many players could be in the exact some boat as Freeman; they just didn't have their info leaked to the media. 

Freeman, as one would assume, isn't happy with this issue. In a statement through his agent, Freeman said, via Pro Football Talk:

Let me be very clear. I have NEVER tested positive for any illegal drugs or related substances. Further, I have agreed to take, and have PASSED 46 NFL-regulated drug tests over the last year and a half.

 And further:

It is a shame that when times have gotten tough, people have chosen to attack the character of others, rather than supporting each other. I remain dedicated and focused to being the best quarterback I can be and to help a team win a championship.

This is, at best, a severe breach of Freeman's privacy. At worst, one can connect the dots and see all of the other leaked info about Freeman in the past year or so and wonder what kind of ridiculous motives the leaking party might have had. 

"It is disappointing whenever player confidentiality of any kind is violated," George Atallah of the NFLPA told Bleacher Report. "There is no question that teams and sometimes even other 'league sources' use it to ruin players' reputations for their own selfish motives. We pursue every single incident seriously."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello
NFL spokesman Greg AielloRob Carr/Getty Images

It is rare to see solidarity between the players union and league offices, but the NFL (through Greg Aiello) gave Bleacher Report this statement: "Any breach of the confidentiality provisions of our drug programs is a serious violation of league rules."

When I asked what sort of punishment could be in store, Aiello only replied: "Major discipline." According to league policy, that could mean fines of up to $500,000. 

One has to wonder, then, what could be gained from this information being leaked. In reality, there are only three entities that could know of Josh Freeman's status in the program: the league offices, Buccaneers offices and Freeman himself. 

Remember, this isn't news; it's a player doing what a player is supposed to do. Freeman isn't any closer to suspension. He's never been linked to any banned substance, street drug or irregular behavior other than oversleeping. 

Why, then, do ESPN and Chris Mortensen even report this?

No one has the right to know this information. No one benefits from the "fourth estate" shining the disinfecting light of truth on this.

No, its just a breach of confidentiality, and one should certainly question if better judgement could've been used before the ill will of the leaking party was served by this information reaching the public. 

Why does Mortensen's source get to remain private and unnamed while Freeman's name gets dragged needlessly through the mud? It's absurd on its very face.

That's the real story here—not that Freeman is in Stage 1 of the NFL's drug program, but that someone felt the need to leak this information and that ESPN felt the need to report it. It's the Freeman saga's dirty and messy conclusion as his time with the Buccaneers quickly comes to close. 

Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the columnist.


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